1940 - 1959 Art in Living
The Great Depression followed by World War II challenged the continued viability of the fledgling Vancouver School of Art. Financial resources were limited and many talented young people were enlisted into active service. Bruno and Molly Lamb Bobak, Orville Fisher, Paul Goranson, Edward J. Hughes, Gordon Smith and Jack Shadbolt all served active duty as either soldiers or war artists. Those students and teachers who remained behind persevered and in 1940-41 produced over 100 posters in support of Canada’s war effort. In 1943, at the height of the war, the Vancouver School of Art matriculated only three graduates.
In 1943, teachers Fred Amess and B. C. Binning formed the Art in Living Group to address design in urbanization. Teachers and students studied housing, neighbourhoods, and communities and presented their findings in four exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Binning, with the help of his colleagues, built one of the flat-roofed houses in Vancouver. This decided modern approach brought students and faculty together to consider the social benefits of good art and design.
In 1946, after an active push to attract war veterans on study grants, conditions at the School improved and between 1946 to 1952, 97 students received diplomas. Mature and sensitive men and women, their thinking broadened by experiences of the larger world, came to study fine and commercial art. The provincialism of the early years was expanded as ideas and forms associated with international modern art movements such as abstraction became known to students through teachers like Gordon Smith and Jack Shadbolt. Painting flourished at the School.
In 1952 the school moved into the larger, renovated School Board building which included a library space. The result was, as Jack Shadbolt said, “…a healthier, living, breathing Art School.” Fred Amess became the Principal upon the retirement of Charles H. Scott. Amess believed in the importance of teaching crafts and hired ceramists Reg Dixon, David Lambert and later Robert Weghsteen. These teachers took promising students to St. Ives in England to study with their mentor Bernard Leach.